E-mail claims radical environmental group set fire in Hagerstown



Hagerstown and federal authorities searched for new leads yesterday as they investigated the possibility that ecoterrorists set a Sunday morning fire that damaged four unoccupied townhouses in a large subdivision under construction on the city's west side.

An e-mail to a local newspaper claimed that the Earth Liberation Front, an underground movement, was responsible for the single-alarm fire that destroyed one townhouse and damaged three others in Hager's Crossing.

The FBI, which has named the radical environmental group one of the most dangerous in the nation and blamed it for $100 million in damage in the past decade, has launched a joint investigation with Hagerstown's fire and police departments.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Maryland fire marshal are also assisting.

"At this point, we're taking everything seriously," Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary R. Hawbaker said.

Firefighters quickly put out four separate blazes that swept through the new townhouses shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday, Hawbaker said. The houses, each with a "Sold" sign in front, are part of a 903-unit subdivision of townhouses and single-family homes that is partly finished. The fires caused an estimated $250,000 in damage.

About 8 a.m. Monday, The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown notified Hawbaker that it had received an anonymous e-mail claiming the group had set the fires. The e-mail said the ELF set the fires to "warn all developers that the people of the Earth are prepared to defend what remains of the wild and the green."

The e-mail also claimed the houses were targeted because they were built by Ryan Homes, which it called "one of the most notorious serial land rapists."

Hagerstown Mayor Richard Trump said the subdivision was one of several going up in his city and was not the target of opposition.

It is being jointly developed by the Rachuba Group of Eldersburg, together with several other builders, near a new shopping center along U.S. 40.

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